Laissez Obama Rouler

LNW_Obama_smOur friend Oyster at Your Right Hand Thief sent us links to coverage of Barack Obama’s “O-vent” before a more-than-packed house at Tulane University’s Fogelman Arena on Wednesday, campaigning before the Louisiana primary on Saturday, Feb. 9.

The Obama campaign is rolling out a detailed plan for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast’s recovery. Obama said to the audience at Tulane:

“The Army Corps of Engineers has rebuilt the levees that were most damaged by the storm, but funding has sometimes stalled and New Orleans remains unprotected. . . . We can’t gamble every hurricane season, and that’s why when I am president we will finish building a system of levees that can withstand a 100-year storm by 2011—with the goal of expanding that protection to fend against a category 5 storm. . . .

“I know how hard it will be to rebuild New Orleans and bring back those people who are scattered across the country—to reduce poverty or violence and to get people on the right track. . . . But I also know this, that nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened except somebody somewhere, was willing to hope.”

Video of Obama’s speech. Transcript.

CenLamar lists Obama’s specific policy proposals for rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and for restoring FEMA and the emergency preparedness agencies, etc.

See below for the Times-Picayune’s report, and click here for the report by 99.5 FM News, with many photographs.

Before his speech in Fogelman Arena, Obama spoke to about 500  supporters who were not able to get inside with the 3,500 others.  Crowds began lining up before dawn for the early morning rally.

Before his speech in Fogelman Arena, Obama spoke to about 500 supporters who were not able to get inside with the 3,500 others. Crowds began lining up before dawn for the early morning rally.

Obama Packs House at Tulane
by David Hammer
The Times-Picayune
February 6, 2008

In a rousing address to about 3,500 supporters, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said the Bush administration hasn’t done enough to help the region recover from Hurricane Katrina, and if elected, pledged to restructure FEMA and put sufficient funding in place to protect against future storms.

The Illinois senator, who is battling Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination, entered the arena to chants of “Yes we can” and cries of “I love you, Barack,” after addressing an overflow crowd of about 500 supporters outside who couldn’t get a seat for the morning rally.

Louisiana voters will go to the polls Saturday for both the Democratic and Republican primaries. Clinton is not expected to visit before Saturday, but her husband, former president Bill Clinton, will be in town tomorrow for several events.

Obama, who makes “hope” a central theme of his campaign, spent a few moments talking about signs of New Orleans’ resiliency and recovery: the Endymion parade’s return to Mid-City, the return of the streetcar to its traditional Uptown route, even the Super Bowl success of New York Giants quarterback and New Orleans native Eli Manning.

But he acknowledged that restoring New Orleans to its pre-storm stature would be difficult. 
“But there is another side to this story. Because we know that this city—a city that has always stood for what can be done in this country—has also become a symbol for what we could not do,” he said.

Obama made his case as the leading agent of change, not using any contrasts with his Democratic primary opponent, but by focusing on the Bush administration’s failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The speech’s first big cheers came when he referred to Bush’s flyover viewing of Katrina’s destruction. He called it a “metaphor for his entire presidency.”

He went so far as to say that many of his supporters are inspired simply by knowing that “George W. Bush’s name won’t be on the ballot.”

Obama suggested that funding for protection against future storms may be starting to lag in Washington. He promised that, if elected, he would make sure the Army Corps of Engineers had the money to finish raising levees in New Orleans to withstand a 100-year storm by the scheduled date of 2011. That plan is already under way, however, and corps officials say it is on schedule to be finished by 2011 with the exception of relocating three interior pumping stations to Lake Pontchartrain.

He also committed to wetlands restoration and a restructuring at the Federal Emergency Management Agency to have the FEMA director report directly to the president, as was the case before Bush took office. He took it a step further, saying he would give the FEMA head a fixed term, beyond the president’s, so that the director has no political concerns when responding to a disaster.

He got a loud response when he took shots at Bush’s appointment of Michael Brown, a friend with no emergency management experience, as FEMA director. “No more Brownie, no more heads of the Arabian horses association in charge of FEMA,” he said.

Before his speech, Obama stopped to talk to about 500 supporters who couldn’t get a seat in Tulane University’s Fogelman Arena. He described the the presidential contest as an “election of a lifetime” and “a defining moment in our history.”

“The dream that so many generations had fought for is in danger of slipping away,” Obama said. “We’ve got to create a new kind of politics. We’ve got to work together . . . we can’t be divided. I hope you decide this is the time to make up your mind that we can’t wait to fix the health care system, we can’t wait to fix the levees, and we have to bring the war in Iraq to an end. We can’t wait to see that young people are going to college instead of going to prison.”

A crowd of mostly students waited as long as two hours this morning to gain entrance to a rally at the arena.

At 8 a.m., the line extended across the entire campus, down Willow to Calhoun. The 3,500-seat arena was full by 9:15 a.m., leaving many waiting outside.

Mike Strecker, Tulane University’s director of public relations, said he expected 7,000 people total. Less than two hours after the university sent an e-mail Wednesday morning notifying faculty and staff of Obama’s visit, 2,000 people reserved seats for the event, Strecker said.

Marissa Florindi, a Tulane senior from Randolph, N.J., said she’s drawn to Obama as an agent of change and isn’t worried about his perceived lack of experience.

“Bush didn’t have any foreign policy experience when he was elected, so I don’t think experience is a make-of-break issue,” she said. “But we need change, and he represents what change is all about. He’s not part of the establishment and Hillary is.”

That’s part of Obama’s crossover appeal, said George Kobitz of Covington, who drove across Lake Pontchartrain before dawn with his wife and a sign reading “Obamacan,” signifying an Obama Republican. Obama has talked about trying to appeal to Republicans much the same way President Ronald Reagan garnered support from whole blocs of Democratic voters.

“I’ve been a Republican all my life and this Bush thing didn’t go over very well. If it was just Clinton, I would stay a Republican and vote for (Arizona Sen. John) McCain, but Obama’s about change,” said Kobitz, who has sent several donations to Obama’s campaign. “The Bush-Clinton era is over. We’re sick of it.”

Brandon Sutton, a Loyola University student from San Antonio, Texas, came at 6:30 a.m. to get a spot near the front of the massive line. He is excited to vote in a meaningful Louisiana primary Saturday and isn’t ready to decide between Obama and Clinton just yet.

“I want to keep my mind open, but it’s hard when I listen to Obama, he’s so good,” Sutton said. “I don’t expect as much from a speech as I do from a debate. I’m just here to be a witness, more than to make any political decision.”

Others saw Obama as a good second choice.

“I liked John Edwards,” said Tulane junior Willa Fetrow of York, Pa., referring to the former North Carolina senator who launched and ended his campaign in New Orleans. “He was the only one who talked about poverty. But I guess Obama is more likely to keep that going.”

After the speech, Obama toured George Washington Carver Elementary School, meeting with teachers and administrators.